Sacramento City Unified Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Rachel H.

DREDF represented the family of Rachel H., a young girl with an intellectual disability, in this landmark victory regarding the right of students with disabilities to be educated alongside their nondisabled peers. 

Prior to the start of kindergarten, Rachel’s parents asked the District to place her in a full-time general education classroom. When the District only offered placement in a special education classroom, the parents filed for due process under the IDEA. The hearing officer ruled in favor of the parents and ordered the District to place Rachel in a regular classroom with supports. The District then appealed to the Eastern District of California.

In his March 2, 1992 decision, Judge David E. Levi identified four factors to consider when determining whether placement in the general education classroom is appropriate for a child with a disability: (1) the educational benefits available in the regular classroom; (2) the non-academic benefits of interaction between a student with disabilities and those without disabilities; (3) the impact of the student with disabilities on the teacher and other children in the regular classroom; and (4) the cost of supplementary aids and services required for mainstreaming the student. Applying these factors, Judge Levi affirmed that the general education classroom was the appropriate placement for Rachel. He highlighted the social benefit of inclusion, noting that that the proposed special education program “would mark Rachel as an outsider,” and gave great weight to the testimony of Rachel’s general education teachers who said she was a “full member of the second grade class.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals adopted Judge Levi’s four-part test and affirmed judgment in favor of Rachel and her parents on January 24, 1994. The Supreme Court denied the District’s petition for writ of certiorari on June 13, 1994, leaving the Ninth Circuit’s ruling intact. Diane Lipton, DREDF attorney, explained that the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case “signals an end to the historic segregation and isolation of children with disabilities in the American public school system. By upholding the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision the principles established in Brown v. Board of Education over four decades ago now apply to children with disabilities.”